The strength of the 50 years at Feather River College

Feather River College opened its doors in September 1968 with only a few classes taught at local high schools, functioning as a branch campus of the Peralta Community College District in Oakland. As FRC now starts its 50th year of operation, your local community college has much to celebrate, including statewide recognition for diversity efforts and fiscal accomplishments. This second installment of 50th Anniversary articles examines the path FRC has taken regarding the student body diversity and developing a strong financial foundation for the next 50 years.

Recognized for Diversity Efforts

Ten pioneering faculty started Feather River College in 1968. FRC graduated its first class with nine students in 1970 and followed that up with 57 graduates in 1971. At the 25th anniversary in 1993, FRC produced 84 graduates. FRC has now grown to approximately 250 graduates every year.

One of the strengths of any college is to be inclusive and bring together different individuals in terms of thought, backgrounds, ethnicities, viewpoints, and other aspects. This diversity improves the college experience while challenging individuals and developing critical thinking. The data is interesting when examined using information and definitions from the US Census, US Department of Education, and California Community College Chancellor’s Office. The FRC student body is more diverse than many California community colleges, as well as Plumas County as a whole. Last year, FRC had students from 22 different states and 11 countries. In terms of local service, 75 students are currently enrolled who are first-time students attending FRC full-time, having graduated from a high school in Plumas County, Westwood, or Loyalton.

A diverse campus is only part of the story. In addition to being a diverse student body, the FRC Campus Climate Report details information where 90 percent of the campus respondents report being “very” or “rather” happy at FRC. Overall, 95 percent felt that “being part of the FRC campus community is a positive experience” and campus levels in terms of equality, nondiscrimination, and respect were also positively rated from 88-93 percent respectively. This research was cited in recent accreditation site-visit reports and demonstrates the inclusive and supportive nature of the campus, curriculum, and Plumas County when welcoming FRC students.

The most recent ACCJC accreditation site-visit report formally commended FRC for its accomplishments in professional development related to diversity efforts, including cultural awareness, training, and “dialog between FRC’s diverse faculty and student populations.” The team of professionals from throughout California was impressed with the efforts of the Diversity Committee to integrate diversity training into the campus culture. Further, they noted the commitment to all employee groups where FRC had  “… many examples of offerings developed based on the needs assessment surveys as well improvements made to offerings based on feedback and evaluations of workshops and events. The committee has established a practice of using student learning outcomes as part of the evaluation of professional development offerings and using that data to make improvements.” The ACCJC commended FRC for exceeding the required standard and “… providing practical and inspirational professional development opportunities based on campus-wide and department-level need resulting in a culture of openness and inclusivity by sponsoring many events that raise awareness of different cultures and walks of life.”

FRC is proud to have such a dedicated team of faculty and staff who work to improve diversity and inclusion with the variety of programs and services available. This strength has developed since the initial days in 1968 when a small group of students and faculty moved from Oakland to start a branch campus in Quincy.

Recognized for Fiscal Strength

When the voters of Plumas County passed a referendum to join an existing community college district, the financial incentives from local taxes was a selling point to several districts in Northern California. As FRC sought a district to join, it offered large financial enticements from local timber harvest and logging taxes. In the beginning, FRC was a financial asset to the Peralta Community College District. However, this changed with the decline in timber harvest since 1968 along with Prop 13 tax reform in 1978, both of which have negatively impacted the state’s ability to financially support higher education. This change ultimately led to FRC’s de-annexation from the Peralta Community College District and the creation of Feather River College Community College District as an independent entity in 1989.

Currently, FRC is the second-smallest community college in California for both enrollment and budget levels. The economy of scale is missing at FRC compared to larger colleges in terms of course offerings, services, and programs. The general fund at FRC is approximately $15 million compared to other local districts such as Lassen ($16M), Butte ($65M), Sierra ($87M), and Shasta ($45M). Therefore, a decrease in state funding or any other emergency hits FRC at a larger percentage of its overall budget than other colleges.

What has the FRC Board of Trustees done to address this situation? First, the Board has created a special board capital reserve fund for emergencies, large capital outlay items, and expensive replacements. Secondly, the Board has adopted a reserve policy that is twice the state-mandated minimum level. Through a fiscally conservative philosophy, FRC reserves are now approximately 7th highest in the state out of 72 districts overall in terms of percentage. When accounting for actual dollar amounts, FRC is about fifth from the bottom, but this has more to do with the small size of the FRC budget compared to the overall state. The reserve fund is used to make payroll and other operating expenses when the state withholds funding, as has been a common occurrence in recent years.

FRC is in the preferred situation where borrowing has been eliminated. This was recognized by the accreditation report which stated, “The College maintains sufficient cash flow and reserves to ensure fiscal stability and address risks. The College manages cash flow within its own reserves, avoiding the use of tax revenue anticipation notes or other short term borrowing instruments. The College intends to maintain a 10 percent reserve but over time, has accumulated additional cash on hand to address contingencies and the potential future economic downturns.” It is this financial planning that allowed FRC to purchase the additional 180 acres of land adjacent to campus in 2016 through the capital reserve fund and without borrowing any money. In addition, FRC has less than $100,000 in long-term capital debt, less than most people owe on their home mortgage.

Moving Forward

FRC was recognized by both the accreditation self-evaluation report for its financial position as well as the most recent independent auditor’s report to the Board. It took a long time to evolve from a newly formed college that was seeking a partner district in 1968 to the present situation of having one of the largest reserve percentages in the state of California while also being recognized for efforts in diversity, offering a bachelor’s degree, and the strength of academic programs. This foundation forms the basis for the next 50 years as FRC offers educational opportunities to the residents of Plumas County, northern California, and regionally.

In the previous article, the FRC bachelor’s degree was noted, including the collaboratively developed degree and the impact on the local community.

The next installment will explore enrollment trends and the challenges in student housing moving forward, including how FRC is responding to changing mandates for funding California community colleges.

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